If Possible... Live Peaceably With All.

"If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all." - Romans 12:18

This is interesting because it's an acknowledgment that it isn't going to always be possible. And it isn't going to always be up to you. You should do your best and I should do my best to live peaceably with all. 

But it's true that with sinful man, it isn't always going to be possible. My sin is going to be easy to forgive by some people, and really difficult to move past for others. And others sin will be the same for me.

We struggle and strive for harmony in relationships in this life, and we should. But it's possible we won't always be able to pull it off.

The Sock Diet™

A lot has been written lately on new diets and their benefits for both physical and mental health. I can see some of the benefits of some of them more obviously than others. For example vegetarianism has its obvious benefits, but the newly famous paleo diet (Google it) seems more of a stretch to me.

None of this really matters however, for what I'm about to propose, and that is my own diet which I would now like to put forth. This diet was developed by yours truly primarily during my time as a single man shortly after college. The decisions of what to eat and what not to eat we're getting increasingly complicated and I just began to experiment with different means to find something that worked. What I discovered is a diet which has helped me maintain a healthy weight, it has improved my skin complexion and tone, as well as made my bowel movements more regular. This is not to mention the fact that I feel great, and I find it to be at worst, minimally restrictive. Finally this diet is very easy to understand and does not require a separate app for your phone or any skills at math to keep track of points or calories.

Without further ado, I'd like to introduce the Sock Diet™.

Very simply, this diet is characterized by limiting daily intake of food items to those that can fit inside of your sock. Not a sock, but yours specifically. For example, a banana is an obvious part of the Sock Diet for most sports athletes and many new hipsters. Most 80's born preps who wear "invisible" socks may find they need to stick to baby bananas or banana pieces, but these folks tend to be the exception. An apple is on the plate for very few connoisseurs of the Sock Diet, but pizza can be rolled and stuffed in a sock of just about any size, except Chicago Style.

This is basically all you need to know about the Sock Diet and you can be off and running. That said you'll probably want to bring a spare pair of socks along with you as it can get messy quickly for some newbies as they remove socks to check if certain items at their favorite restaurants are Sock Diet compatible.

There are a few specific questions that I find people ask regularly and I'd like to address a few of those.

Burritos: Typically these are fine for partakers of the Sock Diet, a few exceptions might be burritos with a name like "gut buster" or "gigantarito". If the burrito itself is too large you might consider measuring the individual ingredients before rolling the burrito. Some people have found they like to cut the toe off a pair of tube-socks and use the tube-like shape as a funnel to pour food in to jars for a quick "naked burrito" packed lunch with little thought. Others have found ways to roll tortillas inside of socks and use the shape of the sock to aid in the rolling up process. Just be careful with your salsas and sour creams.

Oatmeal: Not a Sock Diet food.

Mice: While it's true that a mouse technically qualifies for most people and their understanding of the Sock Diet, we advise against eating them raw. Cooked is a definite YES.

Matchbox Cars: Does it fit in your sock? Eat it dummy.

Finally, if you're Hawaiian or from some other topical region regularly wearing sandals I advise against the sock diet, as I have found those who have strictly kept to it have starved on several occasions.

If you find you are a fan of the Sock Diet please do not hesitate to suggest it to your friends. This is clearly the way we were made to eat from the beginning and it's benefits are numerous and obvious.

Attempting to Save Ourselves

"But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed." -Matthew 27:14

When Jesus stands condemned he does not attempt to save himself. He could, of course, have saved himself. But he chose not to act like it and the response from pilate was amazement. 

This makes me wonder how much we as believers know we cannot save ourselves yet we still live like we can. If we truly lived like we were unable to save ourselves our lives would probably characterized by something much different than self-righteousness. And would this not cause those around us to be amazed?

Ultimately everyone around us is trying to save themselves. Whether they are even aware they are in need of saving is of little importance, because they all are living like they're seeking justification. But are we trying to save ourselves too?

Why aren't more people amazed at the way we live our lives fearless at the coming judgement? We know who will justify us, and that the justification will be (already is) perfect, so how do we live it?

Kingdom Institutions and Kingdom Legacies. The Kingdom of God, People. The Kingdom.

To piggyback off the last post, I spend a lot of time thinking about what it means to be Kingdom minded rather than world-minded, or worldly. It occurs to me that our seeking worldly ambition is really seeking a legacy in the world.

Our desires are often based around wanting to leave behind a institution which can be seen, felt, and remembered by the world. Churches want buildings that will last, or preachers want to leave behind a name for themselves. Organizations like my own seek to leave behind teams that will self-perpetuate in certain places so they can point at it and say with pride, "Look at what we've done. It's measurable by it's very physical presence in this world."

But if we're serious about the Kingdom, then the institutions we should care about are Kingdom institutions. And I suspect these are primarily people. Seeking a legacy isn't a bad thing; but it can be if misplaced in the world rather than the Kingdom. The institutions we are to desire to leave behind are God honoring Kingdom institutions. We are to have a Kingdom-view, not a world-view. But Kingdom institutions are less pretty in our measurements, and more difficult to show to our bosses with pride. They lack a physical tangible presence that can be easily pointed to, and seen by others, but they are nonetheless very real in the Kingdom of God.

More importantly, and perhaps most difficult for us to grasp, Kingdom legacies and institutions seldom stroke our pride or make us feel like we're accomplishing much for the Lord.

Worldly vs. Godly Ambition

If ambition is the desire for greatness, then in who's eyes this greatness is sought is of the utmost importance. By this definition worldly ambition would be the desire for greatness as defined by the world. Whereas Godly ambition is the desire for greatness in the eyes of God.

One of these is perfectly acceptable for the man of God to pursue and the other is not. 

Defining Church: A proposal for a re-evaluation of our terminology.

I've spent some time previously discussing a new paradigm for understanding the word "church." I think our terminology has become skewed. The very quick version is that the Biblical use of the word church often refers to the body of believers in a specific city or geographic location and only rarely "card-carrying members of a four-walled church" as we tend to understand it.

Easton's Bible Dictionary says ecclesia (the word we translate as Church) is used in the following ways in the Bible:

1) Gathering or assembly in the traditional sense (Acts 19:32, 39, and 41).
2) The universal Church (all believers) (Ephesians 5:23, 25, 27, and 29; Hebrews 12:23).
3) A few Christians observing the gospel together (Romans 16:5; Colossians 4:15).
4) All the Christians in one city or geographic location (Matthew 16:18; Acts 8:1, 13:1; 1 Corinthians 1:2,  and 15:9; Galatians 1:13;  Revelation 2:1).

My concern is that we use the word church only in the 3rd sense mentioned above. But you'll note that the usage in such a way is actually a small percentage of the word church in the New Testament. Church is more often used to reference the Church universal or all the Christians in one city.

Therefore my proposal is that the word Church be used to reference all of the Body of Christ (that is Believers) in a city or other geographic location. The meetings that take place on Sundays usually involving teaching and worship, are good, but are not the Church, they merely a gathering thereof. And one of many types of gatherings. The gathering is important, I'm not arguing that it is of no value, simply that these places should be referred to as "places of worship" rather than "churches".

But this is not how we use the word today. Most people use the word church, as just referenced, to refer to their programs or meeting places on Sunday mornings. The colloquial usage of the word seems to be almost entirely limited to that understanding. "Where do you go to church?" Or "What did you do at church this Sunday?" or "How is your church? Do you like the people who go there?" These are all references to an actual program that takes places within specific walls, and not the body of believers in the whole of the city (or the Church universal for that matter). When most people use the word church they are thinking of a program run at a specific time in a specific location. Where you attend this program is significant to them because we've made them think it is what is all that is meant in the Bible by the word Church. But really the Church is much more than your Sunday gatherings, or even all the Sunday gatherings.

But this would be different if Church was used to reference all of the Body of Christ (Believers) in a city or other geographic location. I'm not arguing that there should be no meetings on Sundays. The word "ecclesia" means "a gathering" after all. But what happens between your walls on Sunday could be better referred to as "a place of worship." For where two are gathered you've already got ecclesia, no matter what walls our lack thereof you're standing in.

The Problem with Our Current Terminology

Whether it is stated as such or not, it is frequently implied that, "If you don't serve here, with our gathering, you aren't serving in the church." This means the ministry you do within your gifting at work to your coworkers, praying for them or whatever is not participating in "the church". This is a problem with our current terminology. And one that isn't correct or acceptable.

Recently I saw an article titled something like, "Part time church attendance". But the problem with even worrying about such a thing is that a Believer is in Christ. He is not part time in Christ. His attendance or lack thereof in your local place of worship may be a sign of a bigger issue, but easily might not be. It could be the person just doesn't thrive well in the type of programs you run. To be worried about church attendance is like being worried about school attendance. But a child can learn outside of school walls, he simply doesn't get the grades he needs or the test qualifications he needs to advance in school unless he attends. But the Church is not the same. The qualifications and the tests a believer needs to grow in his faith are not tied to his program attendance. Because the one who qualifies the Believer is Christ, not the pastor. As long as the person is in regular community with believers his Sunday morning attendance is demonstrative of nothing.

Another problem with calling our meeting locations the church is it confuses our understanding of the word pastor. In our current terminology, pastors are leaders of "the church" and therefore in some sense have arrived. But pastors are just preachers or teachers in the Church at large. They may have a specific place to practice those gifts, an audience that listens; but the man who preaches to his friends over a beer or at the Thursday night wings restaurant is also a teacher and sometimes preacher. He's operating in his gifting, he's blessing the Church the same as the man who has podium and speaks before pews. One is not greater than the other. The language we've used has confused that.

There is the issue of the term "para-church" (disclosure: I work for a "para-church" organization, this has certainly shaped some of my thinking). But what is the para-church except the Church operating outside of specific walls or sometimes denominational boundaries? Para-church organizations, as well as just believers in general, are filled with preachers without podiums (but that doesn't make them any less a preacher), evangelists without the title of Missions Pastor (but that doesn't make them any less evangelists), elders without a church board (but their elding is no less significant), and servants without church floors to mop (but their service to the Church is no less important). The programs being run are not what makes the Church the Church. The Church is the Church because of Christ. Sunday morning, Tuesday night, Wednesday at midnight, it doesn't matter the way we've defined it.

Our terminology has led us to believe (whether we say it not), "where two or more are gathered in a building we've called a church, there God is with them." Rather than simply, "where two or more are gathered."

It's led us to believe that Jesus said, "And whenever you eat of this bread and drink of this wine as imparted by an ordained priest (however your denomination should choose to do that) in a church building on Sunday mornings, remember me." Rather than, "whenever you eat of this bread and drink of this wine."

And our terminology has led us to elevate people practicing their gifts (read: God-given roles) within certain walls during certain hours on Sunday mornings, above those who are living out their gifting everywhere else.

Implications of a Change

Should the terminology be changed, and our understanding altered, the implications would be significant

1) We would see other places of worship as part of the Church, not as competing churches.

2) Other pastors would be percieved as other shepherd teachers rather than competing church leaders.

3) An elder with the gifts of an elder in speaking with authority in to people's lives could be living out his gifting at one place of worship most of the time, but occasionally be a big blessing to other places of worship.

4) Authority for elders and pastors would come from the Lord rather than be ascribed to them by the people in his place of worship because of his seminary degrees or history climbing a hierarchical ladder. People need to respect their pastors and elders, but they do not give them the authority to pastor and eld. That authority comes form the Lord alone.

5) Traveling preachers fit a role as preachers that happen to travel, not as sheepless shepherds.

6) The para-church is simply another part of the church that either lacks places of worship or tends to do worship at non-traditional times.

7) Finally the church planter is no longer the awesomest guy around. He is simply someone who organizes one of many places of worship. Not an up and coming 'leader' of the church.

The Church only has one Head and that is Christ. I think our terminology has caused many of us to merely keep that as a good sounding theory, when really we believe our pastors to be the head.

We need a change of terminology because the Church is an institution founded by God; it is the body of Christ. But right now when we say 'church' we mean the programs and institutions founded and run by man between four walls on a Sunday morning.

These are not the same thing.

The word church can refer to a small gathering of believers. But it is not the exclusive meaning of the word as we have used it. I propose this change not because it is a massive shift in our thinking (in my opinion it's not particularly radical), but because it would help us understand the word Church is used (and even primarily so) in other ways in the New Testament than we usually use it.

Carefully guarding our understanding of the Church is fundamental to our functioning as the Church.

p.s. This is something I've been chewing on for some time and have just now finally nailed down concretely enough to write out. I'm very curious about feedback. If you respond to this in a post, or just have some thoughts you would like to share via email please email me.

Adoption is Hard Work - Part 4

I'm actually writing this from the front porch of my guest house room in Ethiopia. The boys are asleep in the room as I sit out and relax at night. Now you'll notice a few things in that sentence. First, yes I have my boys. I've signed the final papers and no one can take them away from me (legally that is). Also, it's "I" not "we" that's here to pick them up. My wife is back home with our daughters for a number of reasons. It's fun to be with them. But hard to be with them alone. I have a visa for them to enter the United States but do not yet have a visa for them to enter the country we live in. So I'm here. Probably for a few more days at least.

First off, it's exhilarating to finally be with my sons. This has been the goal. But as excited as I am, it doesn't feel done yet until they're home with my wife and daughters. There also is the inevitable feeling of shock that comes after you've worked this hard for something. It's been two and a half years. A year and a half since we were first referred our sons. That's a long time to wait. And these boys are a great gift. But it's almost a feeling of let down that they aren't perfect after so long!

Now don't get me wrong. I never expected perfect, but it's hard to long for anything this much without at least a bit of a feeling of "buyers remorse". I don't regret that I spent the money, or took the time, or any of it, but after two and half years of waiting they still poop their pants? This is the $60,000 dollar model right? Cuz that's what I paid for!

Okay that sounds crass. More than I probably mean it to. But I have to say it's strange how all the feelings mix together. I imagine a huge percentage of adopting parents have tons of feelings they're afraid to admit to people. Even their spouses.

Now, I do love the living daylights out of them. And I'm surprised how much I'm attached. But then there is also the feeling of frustration for me,
first and foremost over language. I can neither express frustration or delight. Encouragement or discouragement. Even reason is lost, "Don't touch that light socket or you'll zap yourself," is what I say, but all they hear is daddy saying no.

In December I visited and the younger of the boys screamed bloody murder one nap time, "My daddy left me! My daddy left me!" (Or so my translator said). That made me feel mighty loved until today a friend visited me for about three hours and he screamed the same thing at bed time for an hour (the best I could tell that's what those daddy screams were).

There is so much wrapped up in this. It's making me realize how much I delight in my daughters because they are like me. I enjoy them and their personality for often vain reasons. My sons don't think or act like I do (not yet) except in the ways that boys do just because they're boys. When they do something that's super boy-like, such as play in a puddle for a solid hour, laughing hysterically at how wet they are, I delight in that because I'd be the same way. But when they smile at their own disobedience it makes me crazy. I want them to want to please me like my daughters do. But they don't. I want them to care about my opinion, but they're still figuring out their own.

My boys giggle. And laugh. They're ticklish. And they sing songs and talk to each other (they're 3 and 4 by the way). They take a while to fall asleep but sleep like angels without waking up even briefly all night long. Often 13 hours. They smile and play with each other. They like rain, sunshine, strollers, balls, sticks, drinking water, and eating beans by the pound.

But they don't know Jesus and I can't even tell them about Him. When I pray they don't know what's going on. My daughters are used to it. My sons push my hands off their belly and get confused about whom I'm talking to.

I'm stuck on Ethiopia alone with them for about 5 days longer than I would have liked. Alone time with them is good. And I should rejoice. Unfortunately I'm only here right now because of a bonehead move my agency made on Friday. It took them 30 minutes longer to do something than they anticipated and so a government office they needed was closed. So I waited through the weekend. They got it solved this morning (Monday), but then the embassy I need is closed until Thursday. Knowing my plans were thwarted yet again by incompetence is overwhelmingly frustrating. Had it been anyone else (as opposed to my agency which has made nearly every possible mistake) I think I would have been fine. But the incompetence is stealing my joy. I'm having to work hard in the Word to rejoice over the gift the Lord has given me rather than pray imprecatory Psalms over these people.

I should mention that a few weeks back I found nothing in the word that could keep my attention. It was people's stories I didn't care about in the Old Testament. Or theology I couldn't process in the New. This is why God gave us the Psalms. Man, can I read the Psalms when life is too emotionally roller-coaster-esque for anything else.

I've been such an emotional wreck for six months I've thrown out my back probably 10 times when I normally only throw it out every few years. I'm so stressed my time in the word has suffered and I've slept like poo. In the last few days my back has recovered by leaps and bounds (until today when I got so mad it tightened up again). I've slept so much better in the last three nights it's incredible. I feel rested. Overwhelmed.

But it's still not done. Not till they're home. And then that's just the beginning. Of disobedience. Crying at night. Attachment to us and too much attachment to others. Eating issues. Potty issues. Whew! But I'm so ready for these problems.

Adoption has been incredibly hard and I'm just getting started.

But when I rub these boys heads and see their smiles and the bounce in their walk I get excited. Not because everything is finally peachy keen. But because someday they're really going to know that I'm their daddy. Different than that other guy they met. And they'll understand when I see them do something that delights me and I yell "That's my boy!"

Someday my boys will know they're my boys and they won't remember any different. They'll know their sisters and mom. They'll know the foods we eat and how to wash their hands and where and when to poop. They'll live and experience love. In a way they wouldn't have otherwise. And my family will have the pleasure of being there through everything it takes to get them there. And we'll grow and stretch and fall madly in love with them.

Goodness. This had been hard. But they're mine now. And no one can take them away from me.

Thank you Lord for your faithfulness to me when I was faithless. Thank you for protecting my boys. Show me how to love and protect them. And be with our family. All six of us as we go through the transition of a lifetime.

Adoption is Hard Work - Part 3

Six months ago I stood in court in Ethiopia and declared before the judge my intention to adoption two boys. Six months ago. That was a year after being paired with them through a referral. One of the most important decisions (probably THE most important) you make in the adoption process is which agency you will choose to go with. Our agency has been fundamentally incompetent for two and half years now.

Two weeks ago our paperwork was submitted to the U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia and I did a dance thinking the agency was finally out of the equation. But I was wrong. Turns out the agency is still responsible for getting a birth mom to appear before the embassy, as well as providing information about our other son who was an abandoment case. And it turns out they can mess up even the final details.

My wife and I have been outrageously patient with our agency for a year and a half since we received and accepted our referrals. But we've switched tactics. It appears somewhere along the way our agency got confused and began to think their incompetence was acceptable. A year ago March I wrote our and asked if it was possible to switch agencies. I wish I had followed through. Though the real reason we didn't switch was we were already attached to the two boys we had been referred. We'd been praying for them. They are my sons. But for a year since then our agency has consistently made excuses and not taken any responsiblity for their lack of competence.

It's exausting. Last week I sat in class with my local language teacher who asked about how things were progressing. I told him the boys were still not home. To this he laughed and said, "I don't think I would have any more patience at this point." He's partially right. The truth is we lost patience a year ago. Then we were mad for about 5 months. Then I lost sleep for another four or five months after that. Now we're pretty much just emotionless, until today I received another email from our agency with more excuses, shifting of blame.

Imagine if this had been the case with our Savior. Imagine if when Jesus saved us he only partially saved us. Or consistently made excuses for our different sins and said, "Well, I'm not really responsible for covering that one with my blood." In some sense the agency is supposed to act as the savior for my boys. It is their responsibility to fulfill the requirements of the law that our boys cannot fulfill on their own. But they're a terrible savior. No agency is perfect, just like no savior besides Christ is perfect. But goodness.

I'm mad. I'm mad at the agency for their shockingly consistent terrible behavior. For their promises that they care about the kids and do this "for the kids," because it seems what they actually do is very little. I'm mad at the Lord for allowing this go on as long as it has. I don't understand why He doesn't intervene and rescue them.

"Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear." - Isaiah 59:1 (NIV)

If His arm is not too short to save or His ear too dull to hear, why does He not seem to save? Why does He not seem to hear? This verse in Isaiah goes on to talk about the sins of the people and that being what keeps the Lord from intervening. There is a part of me that wants to examine my own life and see if there is sin that is keeping them at bay. But that betrays my understanding of the gospel. Surely there is sin in my life, surely I don't deserve these sons, but Christ has made me clean before the Lord. So I conclude it is still the sin of man, the sinful nature of this fallen world. The fact that Satan still reigns in some sense over the world.

My prayer is for salvation for my sons. For the Lord to extend His grace to my sons. For His arm to be long enough to save. He will save. But why the hell doesn't he do so faster?

Adoption is hard work, and I don't even have my kids home yet. I haven't begun to see them disobey when they don't understand my English, or even more blatantly when they do. But this has already been hard. By far the hardest thing I have ever done.

I want to scream at my agency. I want to shout from the highest mountain (or the most followed facebook account?) that no one should ever go with this agency. I want no one in the world to experience what we're expreiencing. But I know there are folks out there who have had it even worse than us. And more than anything I just want my sons. Home. In my arms. I want to be able to look them in the eye and tell them their daddy loves them, and fought and fought for them.

And I want to be able to be consumed by something else. I want to recover from this and watch the Lord demonstrate grace in their lives and my own. It's been infurating to see the Lord's hand in every aspect of my life except this. I know He is there. I know He is present. And I know He is hearing and probably even answering my prayers. But goodness Lord, your timing sucks!

Set my sons free. Please God.

And I'm SO sorry to those of you who have had similar or worse experience. I hope at least some will find solace in their bad situation not being as bad as ours. Or those who have it bad would know they're not alone. And whatever the pain is in your life, I hope you remember the love of your Savior has not left you, but living in fallen creation is like the pain of child-birth.

We know better is coming. Lord haste the day.

Bring me my boys!

Preach the gospel to yourself daily, and since it's necessary, use words.

I've been blogging for a while now. In fact it's been over five years since this blog started. It's been interesting to think about all I've written, some good and some plainly not so. In fact, back when comments where enabled I recall at least one or two times where someone called me out for writing something blatantly void of the gospel.

I'm sittin here now thinking about how easy it still is for works-righteousness to seep in to my bones. The gospel has gotten deeper and deeper in there, yet my own foolishness still comes out. I'm still chewing on how much of a theme this is the Bible. The people know they need a savior. They see the Lord free them from slavery, provide wealth in livestock and gold, part waters, knock down walls, give them land and even wine. They see God win wars, slay giants, and heal diseases. And yet they turn to idols, or they seek life in the letter of the law itself. They forget the God that saved them. I forget the God that saved me. I wonder constantly about whether or not I have cleaned myself before Him instead of rejoicing that He has made me clean.

But I write at least in part to remind myself of my own foolishness and failure to see the Lord at work in my life. I write through scripture, seminary, and adoption (still waiting by the way) so I can look back at the faithfulness of the Lord despite my folly. But praise the Lord He is faithful even when I am faithless, helpless, worthless. This is to say, praise the Lord He is faithful always.

Praise the Lord He loves me. And as my friend reminded yesterday, above all praise the Lord my name is written in the book of life. Someday this will be but a distant memory of imperfection (a nice way of saying filthy sin and brokenness).

But until then, I pray I can keep my head up with my eyes on the prize, running balls-to-the-wall after His will. And I hope I have lots of opportunity to look back at when my eyes were distinctly elsewhere but the Savior of all creation still called me His own.

On Pipe Smoking: or Extreme sports for rocking chair athletes.

When I was ten years old my brother and I sat around the kitchen table with my parents and explained, like everyday, what we had learned in school. It was a Tuesday which means a police officer representing DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) had come to our school to speak about the horrors of drugs (mostly tobacco) and alcohol. My brother and I shared that we now better understood that if we smoked a cigarette we would become addicted to smoking and probably die within a few months of emphysema. Additionally if we so dared (ahem) to take a drink of alcohol we would quickly spiral in to alcoholism and die within a few weeks.

Public education fared us relatively well, all things considered, but this was the first time I remember my father literally being at a loss for words. He simply stood up from the dinner table and left. My mother, brother, and I cleaned the table up after our dinner and about a half an hour later my father returned with a plastic bag in his hand and told us to head in to the garage. There he placed a cigar in my mouth and a beer in my hand. He told me to smoke and drink, pointed a finger at my face, looked me in the eye, and said, "You're not gonna die." [1]

After that the luster wore off of smoking and drinking and it was simply something we did every family reunion or big holiday. It didn't matter if you were 8 or 78, you smoked a cigar, drank a beer, and enjoyed the presence of your family.

Later, in sixth grade our school asked each student to sign a pledge that we would never drink alcohol or smoke any tobacco products. A paper I refused to sign, but I was the only one. I knew a few would probably actually keep their pledge, but not because of what they signed. There was a lot of pressure, but I remember the look of respect on my teacher's face when I angrily declared it foolishness for a sixth grade kid to say he would never do something I for one was so certain I would do.

"You're not gonna die."

Yes, smoking can kill you. In fact cigarette smoking is responsible for significantly increasing your chance of getting a relatively rare disease (lung cancer), although some even deny that [2]. But it's really just a minor risk for a great pleasure. Eating too many Skittles will likely rot your teeth out and kill you too, but there isn't the same stigma associated with skittles as there is with smoke (at least not yet). People will complain about Johnny, "He's a smoker," they'll whisper behind his back. But few people will complain about Betsy, "She's a Skittle-r."[3]

Whatever the case I like to think of pipe smoking as an extreme sport for rocking chair athletes. Wikipedia defines extreme sports as "certain activities perceived as having a high level of inherent danger. These activities often involve speed, height, a high level of physical exertion, and highly specialized gear." While smoking does not need to involve speed or height, a rocking chair can easily cause me to gear up to my limits of physical exertion in a hurry, and smoking definitely requires specialized gear—especially for the pipe smoker.

But really it's just that in the same way a skateboarder knows that flying 10 feet above a half-pipe to do a trick isn't exactly the best way to ensure long life past 70, a pipe smoker watches him from the audience enjoying the view and the smoke obscuring it. In the same way a paraglider wouldn't give up his pastime for three mothers-in-law telling him it'll kill him someday, a smoker brings his pipes to his in-laws on Christmas to enjoy a smoke in the backyard.

If you ask the skateboarder, paraglider, or pipe smoker why he does it he simply responds, "Because I love it!"

Smoking later gained some traction for me when my dad got a new job and we moved to the Middle East where a hookah is just a part of life. In 10th grade I smoked my weight in hookah tobacco every month, and it was glorious. Then in return to America I simply quit. Didn't really even miss it. Apparently I lack much for an addictive personality.

Then at 18, in a park sitting on top of a picnic table my youth pastor introduced me to a corn cob pipe asking, "You sure your dad is going to be okay with this?" Yes. I was fairly certain he would be. And this carried me through college with more than a few evenings spent enjoying something purchased from the local smoke shop. Usually some vanilla or black cavendish, but trying just about everything. I purchased a few pipes over time and cracked one or two of the bowls smoking them too quickly and without enough of a rest between smokes.

There are many versions of a saying which says something to the effect of: a cigarette is like girl friend you just use and throw away; a cigar is more like a passionate lover you cherish slowly and take to a nice meal; but a pipe is like a wife, you cherish it, and treat it with respect and care, but it'll burn quickly through your money.

When you buy your first pipe it's easy to become overwhelmed by the many choices in shapes and materials. Thankfully, however, there exists a company called Missouri Meerschaum which produces corn cob pipes at extremely cheap prices (about $5), and they're some of the best pipes money can buy. Yes a $1,000 pipe should probably smoke better, but it's amazing just how well Missouri Meerschaum's are made.

Then you have to realize you've bought in to an art, and learning what kinds of tobacco you like and how you like to smoke them can take a lot of time. There are even immense arguments amongst pipe smokers about the best way to pack a pipe. Traditionally people say simply to fill the bowl full to the rim, press it down to half full, then fill it to the rim again and press down to two thirds full, and then fill it once more and you're ready. But some people like to take a big wad and twist it in to the top of the pipe so all the tobacco is concentrated at the top and there is an air pocket at the bottom. Not to mention the incredibly popular "Frank Method"[4], and this is just the beginning of the pile.

As long as it can take to learn to pack your pipe perfectly, I have always found most people at least basically get the hang of it after three or four smokes. But this is why you need your rocking chair, so that when you figure out what you like and you become overly opinionated, at least you can look the part.

One particular evening my sophomore year at the University of Colorado so much snow had fallen in the night some bushes, usually standing close to six feet tall, had their branches weighed down over an equally tall ledge below and beside them. Seven of my friends and I climbed in to the cave it had created, with snow covered branches down to our ankles but enough head space to sit on the bench bolted to the ledge wall.

That night did something in my soul that was new to me as the embers and ashes in my pipe burned slowly for hours in the presence of my friends. We talked of deeper things than we had ever discussed as the smoke grew thicker in our bush-igloo and the snow gathered higher around our ankles.

"You're not going to die."

In fact there was something uniquely life-giving that night, and smoke definitely played a role in it.

Such experiences took hold and in lieu of paying $60 to rent a cap and gown for a ceremony I cared nothing for, I spent $60 on a Davidoff cigar I had coveted for years. I built a small cardboard carrier box and kept the thing on me during my last final exam. Walking out of the building I laid in the grass on campus and smoked until the blue sky above me turned dark and my friends got bored and went home.

Fast forward to a few months after graduation where I dumped my then 9 pipes on a friend and moved overseas to a place without tobacco. I've been here 8 years now and about a year ago I found bagged and tinned pipe tobacco at a local market. Overpriced, but it was something.

It had been years since I last smoked, and I had never before purchased any over the counter brands, so I had no idea what I was doing when I selected Borkum Riff Whiskey. But I knew something was wrong when the experience seemed familiar but my tongue tried to fight back.

Eventually I found some delicious blends, MacBaren's Mixture Flake being the thing that brought hope back to something I feared I just remembered wrong. I wrote my friend in America and had my old pipes shipped over.

And now I sit, in a rocking chair to get my heart pumping (a man's gotta exercise), writing this with a delicious light Virginia tobacco in my old Irish Seconds pipe—a gift from my parents when I was in college. I regularly enjoy the company of a few other American's who have jumped in to the gloriousness with me. I'm pleased that with the advent of the internet, and even international shipping, most tobaccos are within an affordable price range. I'm pleased I've taught friends to have strong opinions about their tobaccos. I'm pleased they like to pack their bowls differently, smoke slower, and rock at a different pace from my norm. And I'm thankful of one thing most.

I'm (probably) not going to die.

[1]For the record, later research showed the DARE program was ineffective at keeping kids off drugs, and the program was largely shut down.
[2]See Lauren A. Colby's "In Defense of Smokers" http://www.lcolby.com
[3]Or, "She's tasted the rainbow 30 times today!"

Denominations and Division

"What I mean is that each one of you says, "I follow Paul," or "I follow Apollos," or "I follow Cephas," or "I follow Christ. Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?" - 1 Corinthians 1:12-13

Last week I was with some friends of mine and a good buddy who is a Lutheran minister (only mildly relevent), pressed me to tell him with whom would most identify if I HAD to be put in to one camp—or denomination if you will—as it pertains to my theology. Typically I will not respond to this kind of questioning. But this time I regret that I answered.

But the truth is, the question is loaded for a number of reasons. If you identify yourself as a Pentecostal you're most likely emphasizing you have one specific view about the supernatural gifts. If you identify yourself as a Lutheran you're probably talking about your views on baptism and the Lord's supper. If you identify as a Calvinist you're probably most expressing your views on predestination. But what you identify as is often just as much related to who you don't want to be identified with.

This is to say, when we align ourselves with one group we begin to see certain theological issues as the driving issues. Dispensationalists spend more time talking about biblical interpretation philosophy than, say, baptism. Calvinists tend to spend more time worrying about predestination or sovereignty and taking issue with Arminian views on the two issues than they do worrying about biblical interpretation philosophy. This isn't to say the dispensationalists don't care about baptism, or predestination, just that the emphasis is put in certain places because of their identification.

This is over-simplified, and may even miss the mark with some folks. But my point is, when someone identifies as Calvinist, or even Lutheran, how is this possibly different from what Paul is talking about in the above verse? Is Christ divided?

My very first class in seminary, and I'll never forget this, included a lecture where the professor encouraged us to find a denomination we can adhere to and then lean on them to keep us accountable. But the issue I took with this then, and still do today, is that then we're essentially asking for accountability to secondary issues. They are important issues, don't get me wrong. But if your view about baptism changes from infant to believer's baptism, are you therefore a heretic? No. Some may even think your view is wrong, but that doesn't mean they should kick out of fellowship or start to think you're failing in character.

Now this is different from asking about specific issues. "What do you think about predestination?" You can say you like Calvin's view on that, but you weren't baptised in to Calvin. You can disagree with pentacostal theology and still identify as a believer, but you don't need to identify as a "non-pentacostal."

This is one of the things that I've grown to appreciate most about working for an inter-denominational organization. We've got baptists, calvinists, wesleyans, and lutherans (intentionally lower-cased in this instance), and we all agree to disagree on things if they aren't essential to the gospel or the advancement of it. Because we believe we are in some sense still the Church, still the body of Christ. We are united in Christ, not divided because of theology. Yes, we may disagree with each other on certain things, but my organization keeps me accountable to the non-negotiable truths of the gospel. Not to one specific theological perspective. I love having people I've aligned myself to for the sake of accountability, but I also love that what I'm being held accountable to is the gospel. Within reason I can fluxuate in other areas without anyone losing their cool.

On my own team (the 7 people I work closest with) there are charismatics, and former-charismatics. There are reformed folks and some who definitely have a problem with reformed theology. It makes for an interesting dynamic. One which I believe better proves Christ and His love for us (and our differing theological views).

One example is worth mentioning from a night training about 10 church pastors from one of the more well known charismatic churches in town. The truth is, they're barely charismatic, but they define themselves as such because they don't want to be associated with the "reformed churches" in the city. They don't hardly know anything about reformed theology, but they know they don't like it. Anyhow, that evening we were teaching from a passage of scripture which has been used to be rather divisive. They asked my teammate what he thought of the verse. He responded by asking what they thought. They pressed harder wanting the "teacher" to tell them what the "right" answer was. I was sitting next to my teammate at the time, and he pointed at me and said this was a verse the two of us disagreed on vehemently. This shocked the whole group of pastors. "How you can disagree on this and still teach together?"

"Well, we both love the Lord, and we love you. So we can disagree on this and still sit here and do our best to use this scripture to build you up."

Yes, my friend handled that rather well. Probably better than I could have. But the sheer shock shows just how much we've been willing to be divided. And my friend's words I think well demonstrated the love Christ to them.

I don't know that I think you need to leave your denomination. But next time someone asks you what you believe, ask them what specifically they're asking about. It's easier to have useful discussion about one specific topic than it is to draw your lines in the sand and say, "Well, I guess then we'll never get along." It can be more loving for those around you for you to have a specific view on predestination, even one that aligns with Calvin's, than it is for you to just be a calvinist. You weren't baptized into Calvin!

I've written this before, but I'll do it again:

"What I mean is that each one of you says, "I follow Wesley," or "I follow Calvin," or "I follow Scoffield," or "I follow Christ. Is Christ divided? Was Wesley crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Wesley?" - New Roger Mugs Version.

Why do we read this verse and the condemnation Paul issues therein, and think it doesn't apply to us today?

Alcohol, Idolatry, and Sleepless Nights

I mentioned in passing recently that in my adoption process I had become so stressed for a while that I couldn't sleep without a shot of alcohol to knock me out many nights. Well, now I'd like to share about how said alcohol became an idol.

First of all, my father has German and Swiss roots and alcohol is just simply a normal part of his life, and therefore it has been for me as well since I was relatively young. Not abuse of alochol by any means. My father seldom had more than one beer per day, and now drinks mostly whiskey, but even that without any kind of regularity and seldom more than one. In the last year or so I began drinking more regularly than I used to. Having on average a beer or two per night.

Yes there was the occassional three, in fact for years I have limited myself to just drinking beer on the weekends, because it's so easy for daily beer to become two beers and two to become three. But I was stressed, and that was the excuse I used for drinking more than usual.

Now for the record, I do not (personally) see one to three drinks a night as abuse (maybe it is for you, please don't allow me to justify a sin for you). A recent New York Times article suggests that if a man is to obtain the full benefit of alcohol he should drink four drinks per day. Four seems a bit much to me.

Anyhow, about six months ago I started to feel like the Lord was encouraging me to drink less. But I would push back and argue, "This isn't too much, why are you suggesting less?" Or think, "This must not be God, why would He tell me to stop drinking reasonable amounts of alcohol."

Well, first of all, arguing with the Lord rather than just listening isn't ever the best idea. That was my first mistake. But finally around December, in discussion with a friend about it, I tuned in to the fact that alchol had become what I was turning for comfort. I couldn't sleep. So I'd take a quick drink of alcohol to knock me out at night. It worked. But I wasn't getting any better. I was stressed as stressed could be. More than I had ever been in my life. Stressed and arguing and wrestling with the Lord in prayer over my boys. Why won't He just open up the heavens I know He is powerful enough to open and make them come home?

Well, with the revelation that this had turned in to idolatry, I immediately stopped drinking during the week. This also helps control how much I'm drinking. But the more interesting thing is how quickly I began to find peace. Comfort. God is the Great Comforter afterall. Alcohol is something the Lord created, and it makes for a good drink (in moderation) and a crappy God.

I was at the same time convicted that I should confess this to my team. I did. I think confession is something we miss much too much in our Christian circles these days. As a necessary hallmark for revival I wish we would confess our sins and pray together more often than we do. But we as Christians think we save ourselves through our own righteousness, and like it or not, this our reason not to confess—because we miss/forget/misplace/misuse/abuse/deny the gospel. Thinking lack of confession proves we've got our act together, and our sinlessness is our ticket to heaven. But the wonderful gospel that says we NEED a savior.

Confession and my desire to see more of it is a large part of why I want to share this here too. Especially because I do talk about beer here. I like beer, I don't think everyone should drink, but I definitely believe the freedom to partake is a gift and freedom from the Lord. That said, it's also been interesting for me to see how the Lord taught me that abuse of something is not necessary for it to become idolatry. All that's needed is a sinner's heart.

It's been about two months now, and I'm sleeping better than I have in a while. My heart is torn over my boys. I still wrestle in prayer with God over my sons. When will they come home? I still don't know. But my heart is at peace. I'm with the Great Comforter and it's much better than being an moron pursuing comfort elsewhere.

I'm also writing this for my own benefit. Me of the future: if you find you're not at peace, who/what are you seeking for peace? And if it's not the Lord, you idiot, of course you're not finding it.

Thank you Lord for your comfort. Thank you for your peace. Thank you for your grace and the graciousness of my teammates when I told them I've been a fool. And thank you for delicious beer. Help me to say thanks to you when I partake rather than thanks to it.

Man-Pleasing God Service. What?

I want to belong to Christ. But only just enough so I impress others. And that's a terribly sad and humbling thing to realize in the midst of prayer. Are there people who struggle with pride less than me? I wonder just how ingrained in me it is and from whence it comes.

Seriously. I want to be fully Christ's. But only until other people say "wow" and then I want all the glory. What the stink is wrong with me? Sin. Goodness I need a savior! Oh thank God for a savior.

Adoption is Hard Work - Part 2

This is about a month old but I hadn't the heart to get around to posting it until now.

As I write this I'm on an airplane back from Ethiopia. Away from my boys. One of whom cried and screamed horribly as I walked out yesterday because he has attached so much to me in the last ten days.

This is so hard on my heart it's crazy. Today I was trying to make sense of why this is happening and I'm not sure it's the kind of thing you get an answer for this side of heaven. Once the boys are home the healing process can and will begin and someday this will be a distant painful memory. But right now it's a very present painful reality.

Our process is now probably months from being complete rather than weeks. And yet I still feel like the Lord is saying, "I've got this, don't worry." It occurred to me that there are times where I believe that and I have some peace. But there are also a lot of times where I'm feeling peace and then I picture my kids faces, my father instinct kicks in and my worry over them overtakes any peace I may have had.

It seems every verse I read in the Bible is about waiting. It seems everywhere I look people are enjoying their children. Last night I flew out of Ethiopia and on the way I saw four couples with adopted kids they had just picked up.

Whatever the Lord is accomplishing through this in me, it ain't fun. I imagine it seldom is. Few weapons are fashioned and sharpened without fire. Especially those unnaturally dull to begin with.

Don't Throw it All Away

A huge percentage of the Bible (most of the prophets) were written during the split kingdom. Telling people to repent. Basically what God had promised had come about. The promised land was reached, and now they were about to throw it all away. A huge part of the Bible is God saying, "Don't throw away the blessings I've promised you."